Mar 15 2017

Responding to Clark Quinn: Technology or preparation? 

Clark Quinn has a great provocation on his blog today. I ‘ll share a quote, then reply.

So, many of the things we’re doing are driven by bad implementation. And that’s what I started wondering: are we using smart technology to enhance an optimized workforce, or to make up for a lack of adequate preparation?  We could be putting in technology to make up for what we’ve been unsuccessful at doing through training and elearning (because we’re not doing that well).

To put it another way, would we get better returns applying what’s known about how we think, work, and learn than bringing in technology? Would adequate preparation be a more effective approach than throwing technology at the problem, at least in some of the cases? There are strong reasons to use technology to do things we struggle at doing well, and in particular to augment us. But perhaps a better investment, at least in some cases, would be to appropriately distribute tasks between the things our brains do well and what technology does better.

Let me be clear; there are technologies that will do things more reliably than humans, and do things humans would prefer not to. I’m all for the latter, at least ;). And we should optimize both technology and people. I’m a fan of technology to augment us in ways we want to be augmented. So my point is more to consider are we doing enough to prepare people and support them working together. Your thoughts?

Source: LearnletsTechnology or preparation? – Learnlets

While Clark’s question is in the context of workplace learning, it is resonant in far wider contexts. I see it when I’m asked to design group process and gatherings. We are constantly putting “band aids” on instead of addressing underlying issues. We don’t really “prepare people and support them working together.” Why is that? Is it the continued desire for a quick fix, or the deep denial that how we work together matters and making it work more effectively might challenge too many things: power, status quo, cost?

The observation of this problem is neither new nor unique… it is how things often work. So the question  is how do we better shine a light on the underlying issues and take immediate steps — however small – for remediation? Rather than throw up our hands and say it is too messy, hard or difficult?

This is where complexity-informed practices come in. From the deep dives into understanding what is happening with sense-making tools like Cognitive Edge’s Sensemaker, to simple, reproducible group practices like Liberating Structures, we can stop shrugging our shoulders and saying “that’s out of my scope of work” or “I can’t do anything about that.” The point is we have to do SOMETHING. Not just plow on from tech innovation to tech innovation. Here are four possible sets of practices that could help us go deeper and do better. Here are four possible sets of actions.

 Creative Destruction to Make Space

What one thing, no matter how tiny, can we stop doing to make space for the things we want to try? Before we add a new technology, do we stop using another one? Before we seek a solution to an efficiency problem, can we find out what to stop doing that caused the problem? Cue up Ecocycle or TRIZ, and make some of these now-useless activities visible. So often we strive to manage and scale when we have either grown past the things we are scaling, or they are no longer fit for purpose. We operate in mostly dynamic environments, yet we try and shoehorn everything into an ordered domain. (The complicated and simple in the Cynefin framework. In an ordered domain “cause and effect are known or can be discovered.” Complex and chaotic domains are understood as unordered, where ” cause and effect can be deduced only with hindsight or not at all.”).

Space for Uncertainty and Experimentation

Maybe certainty and obsession with technical fixes is overrated. Earlier this week I participated in an online gathering hosted by Johnnie Moore on Unhurried Conversations. He offered five principles to support unhurried conversations and one was The wisdom of uncertainty. We can use uncertainty to experiment our way into useful solutions, rather than coming up with a “brilliant idea” that may inadvertently build on past weakness. We may miss the underlying preparation. We can use Improv Prototyping to “act our way into knowing.” We can use Helping Heuristics to strengthen our listening before we pounce with our own (half baked?) ideas, giving space to considerations that are lost for those of us who “think by talking.”

Leadership for Spotting and Picking Up Promising Experiments

When we start getting seduced by technological innovation, it reminds me that there are people who see the world differently and can look within and beyond the tech itself and spot the ideas for promising experimentation. Not everyone has these skills to imagine things. We want solutions and we tend to foreclose on them too quickly, or fail to do, as Dave Snowden loves to say, “safe fail” experimentation to test our assumptions and asses the complexity (or not) of a situation. Sometimes that means we are smart enough to notice others with these strengths, and not try and be the “solution maker” ourselves. Approaches such as Wicked Questions , Discovery and Action Dialog, and Critical Uncertainties can help us spot the things we might otherwise rush by.

Right Management of the Right Things

I do not want to dismiss the Ecocycle domain of “maturity.” When there is a useful technical application, we want to bring it productively into the work. Same for process issues. Not everything is uncertain and shifting. The critical issue is HOW we manage these things into maturity, and how do we ensure we don’t repeat the cycle of “getting stuck” when that thing ceases to add value. And how leaders and managers can both work in this quadrant of maturity while at the same time supporting the other three areas of creative destruction, networking and birth. Great leaders and managers do their magic in the maturity quadrant AND support others to deploy their strengths in the unordered domains. Keep a critical eye on what must be destroyed, reimagined/imagined and birthed, even if it is not their own area of expertise and comfort.

What are your ideas?

See also:

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Feb 05 2016

Technology Stewardship: App Integration Testing

I can never fully leave behind my passion for Technology Stewardship that came out of co-writing Digital Habitats. It showed up again this week… and the power of thinking out loud together… I decided to try and capture what I learned. Sorry, it is a bit long…

One of the things I’m doing a lot of these days is designing meetings and gatherings using Liberating Structures. Part of the design practice is to put together a “string” of structures. I usually do this with a little set of cards, or just sketching on a page.

string

Another part of my practice is to share my draft strings with other LS practitioners for feedback. This is incredibly useful because the structures are so flexible, they can be used in many, many productive ways. My peers are discovering and using different approaches than I am and this sharing of draft strings helps us both see our own practice in new light, and enhance our repertoires by learning from each other.

A small group of LS “string beings” as I’ve started to call us, have been working mostly in an informal email string. We’ve talked about alternatives. I set up one based on my online consultation site here (password: strings ) but it is awfully clunky.

Some of us have been using Slack (“a messaging app for teams”) in other work and play projects. What I’ve really liked about Slack is it sets up a light communications net for quick conversations, a place to leave links and just enough ability to segment using different #channels that you can keep a tidy house.  So we set up an instance to play around with our LS stringing work this week.

While Slack is great for the social fabric of quick conversation, and pretty nifty file sharing, it does not have the sort of whiteboard capability where we can construct, share, play with and comment upon strings. So I went searching for a white board or pinboard app that had Slack integration. Why the integration? Because while we all get excited looking at a new tool, if it is not in our day to day “line of sight” we will forget about it. A great string might get posted, but if no one knows about it, or forgets about it, the peer collaboration evaporates. We need little signals.

I started with https://limnu.com/ which has a whiteboard plus notes, allows three free boards for experimentation (which expire after 7 days – fair warning!) and Slack integration. You can spawn a board WITHIN Slack, which turns out to be a really useful feature because you don’t have to remember to go back and tell everyone to come look at your new board. Slack’s search is good, so you can easily re-find your boards.

Limnu itself still feels a little buggy. Boards load inconsistently, and today each time I go into a board, my cursor is stuck on one image and the scroll bars to move around the board are gone. I’ve tried reloading but will have to troubleshoot more. There is a great little built in chat and once you poke around there is a sufficient set of features, but not so overburdened you will never discover them. Like many tools these days, you do have to click around and discover. Not everything is obvious (to me!) I can import the LS icons, but I can’t pin them to a note, so every time I move a note, I have to move the image, so I let the images go. I can’t format the text in the notes, so links to the structures are not hot. But I can play with a string, so the basic functionality I need is there. Here is a slightly blurred screenshot of a board (to blur client information…) I inserted a screen capture of an earlier string of a colleague shared in PPT (from Keith McCandless), did a little playing with the swirlies. We used the chat to discuss the string.

Limnu_2016_2_4

Limnu is not, however, as useful or elegant as Boardthing. Wait, why not use BOARDTHING? I wonder if it has Slack integration? Boardthing has been a great tool for building shared visualizations, particularly because it gives a group agency in shaping ideas and information. I like it! I can always put a link to a Boardthing board in Slack, but what if…

So I headed over to the Facebook Boardthing page and asked my question. Not only did Dave Gray and his CTO Gareth Marland chime right in, they and others like Sam Rose and Jon Husband started asking really useful questions.

Friends, this is technology stewardship in action and this is what this story is really about. Here are the questions that helped unlock my own understanding of what I was grasping for.

  • What’s your use case Nancy? Something that dropping a link into Slack can’t solve? Would love to hear more. (Dave Gray)… my response:
    Good question about why integrate. For a number of teams/[projects, slack has been our place for conversation AND link to our artifacts, related working tools, etc. It has the qualities that support social fabric, so it is the place to maintain some level of attention.

      Our work itself in most of these teams requires different tools at different times and it is easy to get compartmentalized into those tools and lose the social fabric elements. Thus the appreciation of Slack (or something like it) as supporting the social fabric, but not trying to bend it to all our other needs. Does that make sense?The Liberating Structures work is an example where Boardthing really fits the bill for the task work. I’m going to take our team on a “field” trip there when we can schedule it.
  • Can you talk about the specific features and scenarios you want to integrate with slack, or slack clone? (Gareth Marland)
    Good question about why integrate. For a number of teams/[projects, slack has been our place for conversation AND link to our artifacts, related working tools, etc. It has the qualities that support social fabric, so it is the place to maintain some level of attention.  Our work itself in most of these teams requires different tools at different times and it is easy to get compartmentalized into those tools and lose the social fabric elements. Thus the appreciation of Slack (or something like it) as supporting the social fabric, but not trying to bend it to all our other needs. Does that make sense? The Liberating Structures work is an example where Boardthing really fits the bill for the task work. I’m going to take our team on a “field” trip there when we can schedule it.
  • Can you think of very specific actions in slack you would want to integrate into board thing or vice verse? (Sam Rose)  Story: I am developing an LS string for an event. I want to get my peer’s feedback. I spawn a Boardthing board IN slack (so it is findable, searchable without me remembering to do it) – probably in a defined channel, and ask for that feedback. I would think carefully of the board name as the search function in Slack is nice and finding things again would be good. Folks would follow the link, play with the string (rearrange, substitute, comment, ask questions. The full context would be on Boardthing. That is the FIRST activity.
    After I use my string, I may want to return to my draft board and note what changes I did, what did and didn’t work. Then I’d want to export a snapshot of that string to share in our string library. Which currently doesn’t exist and we haven’t figured out how we want to do that. We have noted that creating a string and sharing a string are two different functions. The latter is content sharing with useful tagging.
  • So, in terms of the connection you would like to be able to create a shareable board within slack. and then they would provide feedback within the slack channel or the board? (Gareth)  I think feedback is best attached to the board containing the string but I could be misguided!
  • Dave Gray then came back with this summary: A. Alerts in Slack when a board is changed. B. Small version of board in Slack (probably not editable but one click takes you to board) C. Initiate a new board from within Slack. (We all thought this was great.)

Along the way other Slack clones were surfaced, and we are still batting around ideas. Gareth noted how important it is to add features only if they really add value, not clutter things up, and that includes features for integrations and alerts. In the research we did for Digital Habitats, we identified things like alerts and presence indicators as tool features that helped the social use of a tool. That still resonates today.

What did I learn? Dave summarized the kernel of the usefulness and features that make an app integrated with Slack or similar tools useful. There is this subtlety of WHERE the conversation takes place around an artifact, along with the very nature of the artifact. I needed visual, manipulable artifacts AND I needed it connected to a community of practitioners. These  insights now helps me refine both my tool selections and practices with my “string beings!” They also help me talk with other people about why I like Slack, which has been a bit challenging. I feel it, but I need to know how to describe it!

 

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Dec 30 2015

Relate and Liberate: Techniques for Online Learner Engagment

threelegsOne of the events from Novembers ISS Fellowship in Victoria State, Australia, was at Melbourne Polytechnic. We had a handful of people interested in participating virtually, but I really wanted to give them my FULL attention, not split between the F2F and the online group. So earlier this month we did an hour together online. You can watch the recording here – please note, there is a LOT going on in the chat, so read it if you decide to look at the recording.

The slides and notes artifact is here: RelateandliberateOnlineVersionFinal

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Feb 09 2015

Continuing My Ecocycle Experimentation

GenderinAgResearchIn January I was working with the CGIAR Gender in Agricultural Research Network during their meeting. My wonderful client, Jacqui Ashby trusted me to use many of the Liberating Structures with the group. We used the Ecocycle Planning structure early on to help think about the network member’s work in a slightly different ways.

This is the third time I’ve used the Ecocycle Planning “full on,” in other words, I hung a meaningful part of an agenda on to it. I am getting more confident in how I launch the process and appreciate the value of practicing and observing others (like Keith McCandless) running the process and learning from them.

ciattweetSimone Staiger, of CIAT, wrote about the experience on her Knowledge Management blog during the meeting. The tweet was apparently provocative. A few days after Simone tweeted the blog link, she received the most retweets and links than any other post she has tweeted out. Is it the phrase “destructive process” that caught people’s eyes and imaginations?

As it turns out, the conversations around the creative destruction phase of the ecocyle were very interesting to me, and it appears that they were of interest to the participants. Here are the combined notes Simone and I wrote up:

Participants struggled a bit with “Creative destruction.” At first, there was some reluctance to place things in the “creative destruction” area, thinking that this was a negative activity. After some discussion, many groups identified this as a rich area of potential and possibility, the space of innovation and renewal. One participant gave as an example the need to deploy our listening skills to some of their diverse co-workers in order to be able to change mindsets and create and work together.  It was also mentioned that it is important that we involve a larger group of “next users” and partners in the creative destruction and renewal phase. This increases the chances for them to support the birth and implementation of ideas and activities.

Are we both excited and afraid of destruction? Is that the power of this area?

Conversations about the Poverty Traps and Rigidity Traps are always useful. It’s like we put a name on something familiar, but often unspoken. Being able to frame and discuss these issues is critical.

The other area that held some useful insights was the area of maturity. Not so surprisingly, what one categorizes as a “mature” practice can vary wildly between individuals depending on their experience, what activities they prioritize in their work and other contextual factors. What is often enlightening is the realization that there may not be a shared understanding of those mature practices and therefore a high potential for misalignment.

From a facilitation standpoint, I was worried that the groupings we created for the maps would not work. We had to group people working on different projects together, and in the past, I’d seen better results when an intact team or group maps their project. But I was surprised how much cross project relevance and resonance emerged. I’m not sure we really mined that as much as we might have.  There was more to harvest and we left it on the table!  Going forward I need to think more deeply about this opportunity.Resonance and dissonance are always rich spaces.

 

 

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Sep 29 2014

Liberating Structures Online

I was bummed to miss the September Liberating Structures Seattle User Group meeting as it was about using LS online.  (If you don’t know what LS is, click that first link!)

I am passionately interested in this. Today, I had a chance to see the notes and a “minimum specs” document in the works and was VERY HAPPY. (I uploaded it to GoogleDrive so we can all play with it together! I hope that is OK with Keith McCandless, Jim Best, Alex Dunne and Fisher Qua. Guys, ok?

I first want to share the notes. I’m adding my comments in bold.

User Group members got a good start on Min Specs for bringing virtual meetings back to life.

1. Distributing information must not be the purpose of convening a virtual meeting. Firmly invite participants read the material in advance–no ifs, ands, or buts.  Stop the madness of long-boring-stifling-ineffective PPT presentations. AMEN. True online and offline, but I think even more toxic online. People multitask themselves into oblivion. This is also one of the challenging points to convey to “meeting” sponsors. So thinking more about how to engage positively and proactively on this set up issue is on my mind.

2. Asking questions that invite participants to explore a shared challenge must be part of the virtual meeting purpose.  For example, if the topic is “what can we do about poor employee engagement scores?,” a set of productive questions could include:  How do you know when people are not engaged?  What do you do to maintain your own focus?  How do you help others do the same?  What makes it difficult to maintain a positive and engaged attitude? Do you know anyone or any group who is able to maintain high engagement consistently or effortlessly?  How??  Are any good ideas coming to mind? Any 15% Solutions?  What first steps could we take together? [Adapted from Discovery and Action Dialogue]  This set of questions sparks both self-discovery and action to move forward together.  Ahhhhh.  For me this is true online and offline. So the online elements are how people respond (voice, text, group size — i.e. 1-2.4-all) and what type of design and facilitation enables coherence if we cross different communication forms. Some people type. Some need to talk, etc. 

3. Contributing ideas must be very simple and safe for every participant.  More coming… This builds on my last note from an operational perspective. I also think that sometimes the anonymity or semi-anonymity of the online space can actually make it “safer” than F2F.

via Liberating Structures – User Group Startup.

I keep waffling between the approach – find and adapt a tool and grow from there the practices, or use whatever is at hand and adapt the practices. The practical me says the latter. What do you think? (See more of our collective thinking here and here.)

L

P.S. I know, it has been a LONG time since I blogged. Longest gap ever. And this is a fast post, but I figured better fast than never!

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